1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Pérez Galdós, Benito

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PÉREZ GALDÓS, BENITO (1845–), was born at Las Palmas, in the Canary Islands, on the 10th of May 1845. In 1863 he was sent to Madrid to study law, drifted into literature, and was speedily recognized as one of the most promising recruits on the Liberal side. Shortly after the Revolution of 1868 he abandoned journalism, and employed fiction as the vehicle for propagating advanced opinions. His first novel La Fontana de oro, was printed in 1871, and later in the same year appeared El Audaz. The reception given to these early essays encouraged the writer to adopt novel-writing as a profession. He had already determined upon the scheme of his Episodios nacionales, a series which might compare with the Comédie humaine. Old charters, old letters, old newspapers were collected by him with the minuteness of a German archivist; no novelist was ever more thoroughly equipped as regards the details of his period. Trafalgar, the first volume of the Episodios nacionales, appeared in 1879; the remaining books of this first series are entitled La Cort de Carlos IV., El 19 de marzo y el 2 de mayo, Bailén, Napoleón en Chamartin, Zaragoza, Gerona, Cadiz, Juan Martin el Empecinado and La Batalla de Arpiles. As the titles suffice to show, the author’s aim was to write the national epic of the 19th century in prose; and he so completely succeeded that, long before the first series ended in 1881, he took rank among the foremost novelists of his time. A second series of Episodios nacionales, beginning with El Equipage del rey José and ending with a tenth volume, Un Faccioso más y algunas frailes menos, was brought to a close in 1883, and was, like its predecessor, a monument of industry and exact knowledge, of realism and romantic conception; and he carried on the Episodios nacionales into a fourth series, raising the total of volumes to forty. In fecundity and in the power of creating characters, Pérez Galdós vies with Balzac. Parallel with his immense achievement in historical fiction, Pérez Galdós published a collection of romances dealing with contemporay life, its social problems and religious difficulties. Of these the best known, and perhaps the best, are Doña Perfecta (1876); Gloria (1877); La Familia de Léon Roch (1878); Marianela (1878); Fortunata y Jacinta (1887); and Angel Guerra (1891). Nor does this exhaust his prodigious activity. Besides adapting several of his novels for stage purposes, he wrote original dramas such as La Loca de la casa (1893), San Quintín (1894), Electra (1900) and Mariucha (1904); but his diffuse, exuberant genius was scarcely accommodated to the convention of theatrical form. Pérez Galdós became a member of the Spanish Academy, and was also elected to the Cortes; but it is solely as a romancer that his name is familiar wherever Spanish is spoken, as a national novelist of fertile talent, and a most happy humorist who in his eccentricities and oddities is hardly inferior to Dickens. (J. F.-K.)